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Dispatches From High School: Teens on Drinking Alcohol

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Teenagers dish on when they started drinking — and what they would do if they had too much

In this installment of Dispatches From High School, we asked teenagers some questions that might make parents pretty uncomfortable: when do kids start drinking, and what would they do if they or their friend got way too drunk?

We were surprised by the seriousness with which our teens answered these questions (even if their conclusions were sometimes questionable). And we were heartened that so many teens would go to their parents if they drank too much, even if it meant getting into serious trouble. We hope you find these answers as enlightening as we did.

SheKnows: At what age do you think teens start experimenting with alcohol?

This year, I’m a freshman in high school and have only recently experienced teens experimenting with alcohol. I, and most likely many other teens, go through a series of inner debates when I go out with friends — you want to be responsible and safe, while also not being the downer of the group.

— Maya,15 

I think it’s heavily dependent on the area that he or she lives in. At my school, the kids are used to a certain sense of freedom that accompanies living in an urban area. As a result, these kids start drinking earlier. I’d say teens will begin to drink occasionally with friends at around eighth grade. It’s not because of a readier supply of alcohol — there will always be liquor to steal from parents. The freedom that enables this behavior is rooted in the alone-time city kids receive outside of the house as opposed to suburban teens; however, it seems to me that suburban kids only start drinking a year later.

In the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t seem like a big difference, but actually that extra year of drinking helps kids figure out their tolerance. Once you’re in high school there are already many parties, lots of peer pressure and tons of alcohol. In eighth grade, teens are drinking mostly recreationally with nothing to accomplish. This helps teens become more educated about alcohol and its harm.

— Eli, 16

More: "What I Wish My Parents Did More"

Some kids were bragging all over the school in seventh or eighth grade about the previous weekend's booze-filled escapades, and others, at age 16 or 17, have yet to drink a drop of alcohol. While some do begin to experiment in middle school, these kids are, for the most part, aberrations from the norm. From my point of view, the taboo of drinking as something that is, and should be, done only by the wild and reckless stayed with me until 10th grade, when a student in my grade threw a smaller, more comfortable party. This intimate occasion absolutely destroyed any notions of drinking as an abstract, inherently dangerous activity and turned it into the social, accessible activity that it is in the minds of the upperclassmen.

— Gabe, 16

I think it usually starts freshman or sophomore year. It really depends on the person you are and school you go to. There are certain groups of friends that drink and other groups don’t. Some start earlier and others start later.

— AG, 15 

SheKnows: If you were ever in a party situation where you or your friend drank too much, what would you do?

I would call my mom and ask her to come pick me up or my friend up. It’s sometimes hard to make the decision to get an adult involved because that can lead to getting in trouble. But in the end the well-being and safety and of your friend is much more important than being grounded.

— E.L. 15, Female

If I was concerned about my own well-being, the first thing I would do is find a friend I trust — being alone and not in control can end very badly. Then, I would call my parents. Determining what to do if I was concerned about a friend is a harder question. As someone who is very responsible when it comes to alcohol and who has a trusting relationship with my parents, calling them is the obvious answer for me, but I can’t be sure how someone else’s parents might react to this kind of situation. It’s hard to know what to do on behalf of a friend when he or she is not fully in control and can’t play a role in making the decision. But if it’s not always in my power to call someone else’s parents, I can always call mine. So if I felt a friend’s health or safety was at risk I’d call my parents.

— Maya, 15 

More: Should We Allow Teens to Drink Under Adult Supervision?

Although this sounds like a cliché, the best thing to do is to get help from a responsible adult. Most teens have been in this situation, and it always is a tough decision to tell a parent that you were drinking in excess, but it is always the right decision if someone’s welfare is in jeopardy. Most parents I know are aware that their kids drink and would only be angry to find out that they weren’t alerted in such a situation. Not too long ago, a friend of mine had a bit too much to drink at a party. He came home and assured his mom that he had only had two beers. At the time, he was able to say this without being caught in a lie because the full effects of the alcohol had yet to sink in. He hung out for a bit in his bedroom with a friend who was sleeping over that night. It wasn’t until about an hour after he had gotten home that he started to get more and more intoxicated. Fortunately, he stayed up and was not asleep when his body felt the need to vomit; however, while he was lucky, the whole situation could've been avoided if he had notified his mom of the alcohol in his system.

— Eli, 16

Given absolute control of, for example, a situation in which a friend is vomiting due to having consumed too much alcohol, I would follow a very deliberate set of steps. I would, first, bring this person, assuming that they are capable of walking, to a private location. (If they could not walk, I would immediately call an ambulance) Many times, in situations where someone appears to be in trouble, people flock to the scene, overwhelming the person in trouble. Once in a private place, I would assess the situation a second time, and then follow the steps that I have been taught in health class a thousand times for this exact situation. If a friend of mine were in any other type of danger, my course of action would be relatively similar, beginning with my transporting of said person to a private location. Having never been in full control of a situation in which a person is in legitimate danger, I am not entirely sure how I might react to the immense amounts of stress, but I believe that the most important thing is that you remain calm, and assess the situation pragmatically, not emotionally.

— Gabe, 16 

If I was really concerned, I would call my parents. They have let me know that if I am in trouble I can always call them no matter where I am or what I've done. However, if it wasn't such a bad situation, I would just take my friend home.

— AG, 15

More: Teen Rebellion: When to Seek Help

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